ARCHITECT | December 7, 2021
In 1989, the building now named “Uptown Station” in Oakland, California, sustained significant damage and was labeled a condemned property due to the Loma Prieta earthquake. To prevent future damage, the historic building underwent a seismic retrofit in 1990. While the renovation made the building more secure for future natural disasters, it buried and destroyed significant details and characteristics of the historic building. Fast forward to 2016, and Uptown Station was gutted, renovated, and expanded into a multi-use hub in the center of downtown Oakland. MBH Architects created a new Uptown Station that includes parking, retail, restaurants, office space, and a multi-tier rooftop park.
Preserving the original design was a main focal point of the interior renovation. The structure was initially constructed in 1928 as the HC Capwell Co. Department Store, one of the largest stores of its time on the West Coast. Taking up a whole city block, it quickly became a local destination for the Bay Area and remained a steadfast shopping destination in downtown Oakland through the 20th century. It endured multiple renovations and expansions as technology evolved and the company changed hands. Much of the original character that made the design unique was lost, but the building was still standing tall in the growing metropolis. The design team saw the potential in reintroducing Uptown Station as a mixed-use development for office and retail tenants.
MBH Architects coordinated and synchronized the design development, construction document, and construction administration phases across 57 various consultants and 400 different trade workers of various disciplines. With an abundance of different specialists, MBH Architects had to develop a strategy to streamline all the different processes that occur on a job of this magnitude. To accomplish this the team practiced effective communication through a number of construction productivity software.
The historic Uptown Station had undergone multiple renovations and retrofits throughout its nearly 100 year long history. MBH Architects took on the opportunity of uniting all these disparate updates into a cohesive design that was seismically stable and aesthetically contemporary. However, the existing conditions of the structure provided numerous technical challenges for the design team. The flooring had to be laser scanned, ground to level, and topped with a new slab to meet floor flatness (FF) and floor levelness (FL) requirements in order to accommodate new office space for a tenant. Most of the added infrastructure was left exposed for visual interest and construction simplicity. However, this entailed coordination of materials and documentation across all floors of the building. The exposed ceilings throughout the building required close coordination between MEP design build trades and the design team. Wherever columns and beams were added or significant repairs were required, new materials had to be matched to existing finishes, in one case requiring troweling on fireproofing material to match the concrete. The many structural additions required construction details that accommodated tolerances (up to 1.5” of variance) for older buildings.
One of the most daunting challenges in the design was removing the concrete façade which was added in 1990 to repair exterior damage from the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The concrete shell protected the building from further damage but closed most of the façade’s glazing and architectural texture. In order to return Uptown Station to its historic appeal, the design team reintroduced the exterior glazing, complemented with fresh exterior tiling. To ensure structural safety, instead interior supports carry the load of the enormous structure.
The fresh finishes and updated structural elements fill the space, creating a contemporary aesthetic which seamlessly complements the art deco inspired designs. Most of the original concrete structure was left exposed, as was the structural steel added during the retrofit, giving the space an added industrial look. Entering the office levels from the paseo, guests pass through a 95’ high atrium cut into the building as a ‘jewel box.’ The atrium serves as the central public gathering space and features natural lighting and views between the offices and the ground floor. On the office floors, circulation and break spaces surround the floor-to-ceiling atrium glazing, providing continuity to the large open office concept. Offices are highlighted with high-end soft finishes and furnishings to make the spaces comfortable and perform acoustically. On levels six, seven, and eight, the rooftop terraces cascade creating an indoor and outdoor connection that offers flexible workspace and panoramic views of Oakland and the Bay Area.
Uptown Station has been an Oakland icon for nearly a century, seeing the city through its many evolutions. It is now reopened as a hub for dining, shopping, and working, filled with custom fixtures and public murals from local Oakland native artists, the result of a responsible repurposing of a dilapidated building into one with true value for the local community and businesses without the traditional tear down approach. This project was in close proximity to MBH Architects’ headquarters, and for much of the team was a recognizable local landmark, with some even remembering the grandeur of the former department store from childhood. From the project’s onset, the design team envisioned the sociological impact Uptown Station would have on the Oakland community, both for the project team, clients and future visitors. It takes what is already special within the city and creates a unique and standout mixed-use development that provides opportunities in the current landscape.